Retro Potluck Recipes
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Jell-O Salad and Other Old-School Potluck Recipes We Secretly Love

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Retro Potluck Recipes
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Potluck Classics

Summer is the season for cookouts and potlucks — everyone is invited as long as they bring a dish to pass. You'll find versions of some classic American party recipes at every potluck you attend, including potato salad, deviled eggs, and Jell-O molds. Even though vintage recipes go in and out of style, they're often the first dishes to disappear from the buffet line. As you're gearing up for the Fourth of July this year, consider making one of these delicious, retro potluck dishes that everyone loves.

Related: Relive Your Childhood By Making These Classic Ice Cream Truck Treats

Stuffed Celery
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Stuffed Celery

Celery stuffed with cream cheese has been served as a party snack since the early 1900s. It rose to popularity in the 1960s as a quick-fix dish that's easily transportable and endlessly adaptable (don't forget ants on a log!). Most recipes include chopped olives for a briny kick, and you can use a pastry bag to pipe the mixture onto the celery if you're feeling fancy.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Cocktail Weiners
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Cocktail Weiners

Set out a slow cooker of cocktail weenies and some toothpicks at a party and they'll be gone in no time. Most recipes for this retro classic combine a tomato-based sauce, like chili sauce or barbecue, and a sweet jelly or jam. Heated together, they make for a thick, sweet glaze to coat the little smoked sausages.

Recipe: Southern Living

Swedish Meatballs
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Swedish Meatballs

It's hard to find an appetizer or party cookbook from the 1950s that doesn't include a recipe for Swedish meatballs. The dish was brought to America by Scandinavian immigrants, who settled mostly in the upper Midwest and served it at gatherings and smorgasbords long before it became the fashion across the country. Don't forget to serve the little cocktail meatballs with tart lingonberry jam, which helps cut through the rich gravy.

Recipe: Food52

Cheese Balls
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Cheese Balls

Cheese balls are a blend of one or more types of cheese with ingredients like cream cheese and mayonnaise, which are rolled into a ball and coated with nuts, dried fruit, or other seasonings. It's spread on crackers or toast and can be flavored with just about anything. Though it's often seen as an inexpensive way to stretch cheese, the combination of creamy, salty cheese and crunchy nuts is hard to beat.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Watermelon Rind Pickles
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Watermelon Rind Pickles

Watermelon rind pickles exist for two reasons: to use up every last bit of something that took a lot of time and effort to grow, and because pickling was one of the only effective preservation methods before refrigeration. In the South and pockets of the Midwest, especially where German and Russian immigrants settled, the sweet, salty pickles are a popular side dish and snack with the complex flavors of cloves, cinnamon and allspice.

Recipe: Epicurious

Rumaki
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Rumaki

America was infatuated with Polynesian and Hawaiian culture in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the most popular dishes was rumaki, made with chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon with a sweet glaze. The famous tiki restaurant Trader Vic's is credited with inventing the dish, and it quickly spread. It's not something you see often on party spreads anymore, but the teriyaki-like sauce on bacon and crunchy water chestnuts are hard to resist.

Recipe: Saveur

Spinach Dip in a Bread Bowl
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Spinach Dip in a Bread Bowl

All the rage in the 1980s, cold spinach dip served in a bread bowl was the centerpiece of every crudite platter. Using frozen spinach, canned water chestnuts, and sometimes a package of Knorr seasoning, it's super quick and simple to prepare. It's also tasty enough that we hope it's going to make a comeback soon, as it's much easier to hold and serve than its baked cousin, spinach and artichoke dip.

Recipe: Catherine Greer

Deviled Ham
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Deviled Ham

To "devil" a food is to mix it with highly-flavored seasonings like cayenne and mustard. Deviled ham is a spread for sandwiches or crackers made of ground ham that was first manufactured and canned in 1868 by the William Underwood Company (their devil logo is the oldest food trademark still in use today). Because it's a canned meat product, deviled ham gets a bad rap, but quick, savory, homemade versions are great for a potluck spread.

Recipe: All Recipes

Deviled Eggs
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Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are so ubiquitous at parties and cookouts that you can buy a specially-designed platter to hold them securely at just about any big box store like Walmart or Target. It's one of the party foods that has never gone out of fashion, and shows no signs of slowing down. There are as many variations on the recipe as there are families, but you can bet they're all loved equally.

Recipe: Betty Crocker

Macaroni Salad
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Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salad has been a staple at American cookouts for as long as anyone can remember. Fat, soft noodles are a staple in Hawaiian mac salad, while Amish versions usually include a tangy, sweet dressing and crunchy diced vegetables. Regional variations in macaroni salad are countless, but any of them are sure to get gobbled up at a 4th of July potluck.

Recipe: Food Network

Classic Green Bean Casserole
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Green Bean Casserole

Campbell's classic green bean casserole is always one of the first dishes to go at a potluck, whether it's Thanksgiving or not. The recipe was created by Dorcas Reilly in 1955 as she worked as a supervisor in the home economics department of the Campbell's test kitchen. It uses few ingredients, most of which are pantry staples, so it's quick to put together and eaten just as fast.

Recipe: Campbell's Kitchen

Potato Salad
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Potato Salad

The much-beloved potato salads we know today came to America by a convoluted route. The potato, a plant native to South America, was brought to Europe in the 16th century, and by sometime in the 19th century, European immigrants introduced potato salads to America. Germans favored a bacon and vinegar-based salad, while the French and British probably influenced the mayo-based potato salad most common at cookouts.

Recipe: All Recipes

Cheesy Potatoes
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Cheesy Potatoes

Cheesy potatoes go by many names: funeral potatoes, scalloped potatoes, and potato casserole, to name a few. But they're all generally the same mixture of shredded or diced potatoes, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and cheese. It's baked until bubbly, and we love the contrast between the creamy casserole and the crunchy Corn Flakes or crushed crackers on top.

Recipe: Ore-Ida

Related: 30 Strange But Surprisingly Tasty Local Foods to Try

Waldorf Salad
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Waldorf Salad

First created by Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'hotel of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, in 1896, Waldorf salad started as a simple combination of apples, celery and mayonnaise. Over the years, walnuts, grapes, and sometimes even chicken was added, and it became popular once again in the 1960s. It's a refreshing, crunchy dish that's hard to turn down in the heat of summer.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Spoonbread
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Watergate Salad
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Watergate Salad

When Kraft first sold instant pistachio pudding mix in 1975, they developed a recipe called Pineapple Pistachio Delight that used it along with another of their products, Cool Whip. That sweet mixture became known as Watergate salad when a Chicago newspaper purportedly reprinted it with the new name. It was popular immediately after the Watergate political scandal, and has hung around as a creamy dessert and side dish, especially in the Midwest, ever since.

Recipe: My Food and Family

Seven-Layer Salad
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Seven-Layer Salad

Though the ingredients can vary, most retro seven-layer salads include chopped lettuce, peas, mayonnaise, bacon, and cheese. They're typically layered in a big glass bowl for an impressive presentation. Because the dressing layer is on top, the ingredients don't get soggy, making it a great do-ahead potluck recipe. With all its fresh ingredients, it's a great foil to the typical meat-heavy cookout.

Recipe: Feast and Farm

Three Bean Salad
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Three Bean Salad

Bean salads, whether they're made with three, four, or even more types of beans, have been around for a long time. Most typical is a three-bean mixture that uses green beans along with legumes like kidney beans or chickpeas. Unlike other potluck salads, bean salad is dressed in a vinaigrette without mayonnaise, so it stays fresh without refrigeration longer. That makes it one of the healthiest items on any potluck spread, so chow down.

Recipe: All Recipes

Tuna Casserole
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Tuna Noodle Casserole

Campbell's came out with cream of mushroom soup in 1934, paving the way for all kinds of savory baked dishes. Tuna casserole was one of them, combining egg noodles, canned tuna, perhaps some peas, and cheese into a hearty, from-the-pantry meal. It became popular in the 40s, a time when frugality was on everyone's mind, and has since become a nostalgic dish that everyone loves.

Recipe: Campbell's Kitchen

Turkey Tetrazzini
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Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey (or chicken) tetrazzini was probably created in the early 20th century and named for Italian singer Luisa Tetrazzini. It was made up of spaghetti baked in a white sauce with parmesan cheese. Like many American favorites, it regained popularity in the mid 20th century when canned cream soup and convenience cooking were all the rage. It's total comfort food, so even if it's out of fashion right now, it will always result in an empty dish by the end of the potluck.

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

Sloppy Joes
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Sloppy Joes

The all-American sloppy joe has a few possible origin stories, including one in Havana, Cuba. Most likely, it evolved from loose meat sandwiches in Iowa in the early 20th century, and quickly became a staple at school lunches and potlucks. Skip the can and make them from scratch to really impress your guests.

Recipe: Taste of Home

King Ranch Chicken
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King Ranch Chicken

Though there really is a King Ranch in Texas, the creamy, Tex-Mex casserole popular all over the South isn't named for it. In fact, no one is really sure where it originated, but everyone knows that the cheesy, chile-studded dish layered with corn tortillas and shredded chicken is undeniably delicious.

Recipe: Southern Living

Jell-O Salad
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Jell-O Salad

Jell-O salad, though using a brand name for flavored gelatin, has become a catchall term for a dish made with gelatin. They're usually sweet desserts, but they can be side dishes too. Some are shaped in vintage ring molds, while others are scoopable. There are some that seem to appear at every potluck, like strawberry pretzel salad and all flavors of brightly colored fruit "fluff." No matter the version, we love them all for a 4th of July celebration because they're chilled, light, and jiggly.

Recipe: My Food and Family

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

While upside-down cakes have existed in many forms for centuries, the pineapple upside-down cake we love in America was popularized by Dole, the company that first canned pineapple in 1903. In 1925, Dole held a recipe contest to promote their products, and received 2,500 recipes for pineapple upside down cake alone, cementing its place in American cuisine. Though it can be made with fresh pineapple, the retro version with perfect fruit rings studded with bright red maraschino cherries will always be a nostalgic classic.

Recipe: Dole

Chiffon Pie
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Chiffon Pie

A chiffon pie is made by folding whipped egg whites into a fruit mixture thickened with cornstarch or gelatin. It results in a light, airy filling that won't weigh you down in hot weather. It's generally credited to Monroe Boston Strause, also known as the Pie King, in the 1920s. Today, the most common flavors are pumpkin and lemon, though practically any fruit filling benefits from the lightness of meringue.

Recipe: Saveur

Red Velvet Cake
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Red Velvet Cake

It's hard to resist a piece of red velvet cake. Its exact origins are murky, but what is clear is that Adams Extract, a food coloring manufacturer, published a recipe using red food coloring in the 1940s, and that helped spur its popularity. Nowadays, recipes often use buttermilk to keep the cake moist and top it off with piles of white cream cheese frosting.

Recipe: Adams Original Extract

Pineapple Casserole
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Pineapple Casserole

If you grew up in the South, chances are you're already familiar with pineapple casserole, a staple at gatherings, funerals, Easter dinners, and potlucks of all types. It's a mix of sweet and salty, with canned pineapple, sharp cheddar cheese, and crushed Ritz crackers, making it a great side dish to pass. Feel free to substitute fresh pineapple for canned when it's in season.

Recipe: Tasting Table

Ambrosia Salad
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Ambrosia Salad

When ambrosia first came about in the late 1800s, it was usually a mixture of fruits, sugar, and coconut. Now, ambrosia salad is usually a creamy dessert made with convenience foods of the 20th century: canned fruit, sweetened coconut, marshmallows, and Cool Whip. It's sticky, super-sweet, and unhealthy — and we love it for all those reasons.

Recipe: Delish

Tunnel of Fudge Cake
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Tunnel of Fudge Cake

In 1966, Ella Helfrich came in second place in the annual Pillsbury Bake-Off competition. Though she didn't win, her recipe, the Tunnel of Fudge cake, is the one recipe most associated with the contest today. As it bakes, the nut-filled chocolate bundt cake develops a fudge-like center that stays soft and moist even after it's cooled. It's a classic recipe that stays well and feeds a lot of people.

Recipe: Pillsbury

Cherry Pie
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Cherry Pie

There's nothing more American than pie, and in the summer, that means cherry. Traditionally, sour cherries have been used in pies, which gives the filling its bright-red hue. Tart cherries can be a little hard to find, so recipes using sweet cherries are popular. To feed a big potluck crowd, make a slab pie in a jelly roll pan and watch it disappear quickly.

Recipe: Recipe Girl

Related: 22 Classic Pie Recipes

Cherries Jubilee
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Cherries Jubilee

Created by famous gourmand Auguste Escoffier in honor of Queen Victoria's jubilee celebration, cherries jubilee is a dish of cooked cherries flambeed and served over ice cream. It was adapted for the American kitchen in 1950s and 1960s cookbooks. Now, the retro recipe is best made in summer when cherries are in season, and can be made without the theatrical flambee for simplicity.

Recipe: Bon Appetit

Texas Sheet Cake
Texas Sheet Cake by Lonnon Foster (CC BY-NC)

Texas Sheet Cake

No one's quite sure of the real history behind Texas sheet cake, the thin, poured frosting-topped chocolate cake. With typical Texas ingredients like buttermilk and pecans, it seems likely that it is from the state, or at least the South. Since the cake is made in a half-sheet pan, it feeds a huge crowd without much work, making it a perfect potluck dessert that everyone loves.

Recipe: Texas Monthly